The Sugar Quill
Author: Perri Smith (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Thine Own Self  Chapter: Part 2
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Thine Own Self

Thine Own Self

by Perri Smith

* * * * * * * * * *

Part 2

The tables were full when she entered the Great Hall nearly halfway through noon break. The noise level was fierce, stomachs now full enough to allow mouths to be open and active. The Gryffindors elbowed and shoved, most of the Ravenclaws were studying, the Hufflepuffs and the Slytherins were talking a mile a minute within their own tables. At the end of the Slytherin table, two or three body spaces between them and the others, five anxious faces turned to her the moment she was spotted.

"Kit!" Second-year Andrew somehow kept his yelp nearly inaudible; David laid a warning hand on his shoulder anyway. Rina made a move towards her that looked as if she were seeking a hug; Katherine stiffened as she sat, ignoring the girl until Rina slumped in her seat and played with her peas.

David leaned over the first-year until he was close enough to be heard. "What happened in History of Magic?" he asked quietly. "The Gryffindors have been--"

"I'm aware of what the Gryffindors have been," she cut him off, loading her plate with ham and mashed potatoes and gravy. "I was there to see it. Black pulled one of his infantile pranks on Lucius and, wonder of wonders, it worked."

"He was really on the floor, huh?" Erin grinned across the table through a mouthful of gooseberry fool. "I'd have liked to have seen that."

"I'd gladly have given up my place, O'Malley," Katherine said quellingly. "Would you like to attend classes with Malfoy?" Erin shook her head quickly and subsided, but the glint of enjoyment of another's misfortunes was still there. It usually was.

"Maybe they'll be so mad at Potter and Black that they'll ignore us?" Third-year Shivani offered quietly, drawing furrows in the top of an apple tart with her fork. Her long dark hair curtained her face. "At least for tonight."

"Maybe." David tried to smile reassuringly, and didn't succeed; Katherine idly wondered why he'd bothered. "Eat now, worry later."

The advice was meant for the younger students, but Katherine took it anyway, setting into her meal with grim determination. Couldn't cast a hex on an empty stomach, could you?

Two Slytherin third-years, Shivani and Erin's roommates, raced into the hall, short of breath from rushing. They eyed the table, and one of them actually started to slide into the space between Erin and the rest. The other yanked her away, dragging her down to squeeze into a tiny opening on the other side, well away from the lepers. Shivani bit her lip, and Erin's fork slammed hard into the remains of her dessert, scattering crumbs across the table.

Katherine very carefully didn't notice any of it. "Everyone needs to be in the Common Room well before curfew," she reminded the group a few minutes later. "That corner near the fireplace is still the most defensible. Bring all of your homework so we can at least look busy. Do *not* bring blankets or anything else you sleep with, Rina."

Rina looked close to tears at being deprived of her battered stuffed owl, and Erin rolled her eyes with all the lofty disdain of a third-year for a first-year 'baby'. "We know the drill, Kit, we've been doing it for a week. How much longer do you think we're going to be able to keep it up?"

"It's Katherine, not Kit, and not much, so enjoy your sleep while you can get it."

"And after Malfoy gets tired of playing with us?" Shivani asked, not taking her eyes from her nearly-destroyed tart. "What happens then?"

Katherine tried to come up with something calm and all-knowing to say; infuriatingly, David didn't help, but stared at her with the same 'let's see you pull a rabbit out of a hat' expression the younger ones had. She settled for simply shaking her head, and picked her fork back up without looking at any of them. "Eat now, worry later."

One by one, they obeyed.

* * * * * * * * * *

She didn't get the nap after Arithmancy, shanghaied by a Slytherin/Ravenclaw study group, and she had to kick David awake halfway through supper. Fortunately, they were still in their No Man's Land at the very end of the Slytherin table, and she didn't think anyone had noticed.

"Sorry," David apologized in a low whisper. The circles under his eyes were getting deeper and darker, and even his dark blond hair seemed tired, laying limply across his forehead. He looked too old and worn to be only a fifth-year, and she wondered how ancient she looked. She'd been avoiding mirrors lately.

"Don't be sorry, stay awake." She tried not to move her lips as she spoke; she'd managed to miss Malfoy and Snape at noon, but they were at the other end of the table now, and she could feel Snape's speculative gaze as it rested on their little group. Unwillingly, a list of various potions that could be disguised in food started marching through her brain, and she shoved her plate away.

The younger students finished and the group trickled out in pairs, making their way through the dungeon corridors to the Slytherin Common Room -- Erin next to David, Rina tagging after Shivani like her younger, shorter twin, Andrew with Katherine, all of them trying to look as if it wasn't planned that way. They wouldn't fool anyone, but Slytherins had their pride, after all. Even these Slytherins.

Erin and Shivani arrived in the Common Room first, and staked out the corner table by the simple means of ejecting the group of second-years who'd gotten there first. Erin gave one a shove on his way, ignoring his stifled gasp of pain when his knees hit the floor too hard. David gave her a hard look and she shrugged, green eyes dancing innocently. "What?"

Shivani opened a Defense Against Dark Arts text and was immediately absorbed in it; it was David's fifth-year text, and Katherine could guess the hexes she was studying by reading her lips as she chanted them under her breath. Rina and Andrew hunched over Transfiguration essays, and David gave up on chastising the unrepentant Erin to begin tutoring her in Arithmancy. Katherine pretended to work on a History of Magic essay, and instead kept a wary eye on the rest of the Common Room.

Being six weeks out from winter break and end of term exams had motivated most of the room to crack down on the studying or, in several cases, to begin refining their plans to cheat. Study groups coalesced throughout the room, the susurration of sixty whispers broken only by the sounds of a bloodthirsty game of wizard chess by the fire, as Snape took far too much satisfaction in wiping out the pieces of a fifth-year boy who should have known better. His tall, skinny shadow flickered against the wall, unnaturally elongated by the firelight.

But it was the group in the far corner of the room that worried her -- Malfoy surrounded by the most intense and most sycophantic of his cronies, expounding with sweeping arm gestures and great smugness, the firelight glinting from his silver prefect badge. Periodically, he would tap his left arm, just below the elbow, for emphasis, and everyone who saw inevitably flinched. But they still pretended they hadn't heard the rumors, pretended that Malfoy didn't already wear the Dark Mark.

Sometime during the last two weeks, Malfoy had stopped bothering to pretend. About a lot of things.

She shuddered suddenly, and the younger students looked up with wide eyes. "It's cold in here," Katherine told them, more for form's sake than because she expected them to believe her. She shoved her chair away and walked to the fire for the sake of moving, the comfort of doing.

She lost herself in the shadows at the corner, as far away from Snape and his victim as she could get. This close, she could almost make out Malfoy's proselytizing, and blocked him out as well as possible. The fire didn't help with the cold -- Slytherin House was always cold these days; the only kind of fire that would help was the kind that destroyed it -- but she tried to concentrate on the flames as they flickered in their endlessly moving dance, tried to lose herself in them.

But Malfoy's voice rose again, his glance skipping over her to the table just behind her, the word "Mudblood" too clear to be missed -- as, of course, he'd intended. She stared at the flames, but her eyes betrayed her, drawn by some sick fascination back to the dark robes over Malfoy's arm. Knowing what burned under there....

"Fascinating, isn't it?" It took all her self-control not to jump when Snape's voice came, low and harsh, right beside her ear. "The way they flock to him -- not because of his wealth or his so-charming personality, but because of the promise of power. Endless power, to achieve... anything."

"They'll be devoured by that power," Katherine replied. "You know it at well as I do."

"Of course." She felt rather than saw Snape's smile. "The question is, is what that power can give you worth what it will take? Wealth, knowledge... protection, perhaps?" He stared thoughtfully into the fire, ever-changing shadows casting his face into that of a much older man, his black eyes hollow, his bones too strong against his skin. Then he turned back to her, and was merely a gangly 17-year-old again. "The followers of the Dark Lord will need fear nothing again."

"They'll fear the 'Dark Lord', if they're wise." She turned enough to meet his eyes. "How wise are you, Severus?"

His smile grew, self-confident and sure, and she wondered if he would live as long as he thought. Somehow, she doubted it. "Wise enough to take all the power he can give. But I'll give him nothing more of myself than I choose." He tried to rearrange his face into sympathetic lines, and failed. "Pity you and the other Muggle get won't have the same option."

She stared at the fire for a long time after he swept away, still freezing from within.

* * * * * * * * * *

"I hate sleeping on the floor."

"You'd like sleeping with spiders better? They might be in your bed next time, instead of your trunk."

Erin sulked, but shut up and closed her eyes again, and Katherine turned back to David. "Go to sleep; I'll keep the watch."

"And when do you plan to sleep?"

"Christmas."

"You won't make it that long."

"You know, you'd have done better in Hufflepuff. They'd have liked it, you being everyone's mother."

David shrugged faintly, his thin shoulders barely moving his robes. "The Hat thought otherwise. Besides, I have plans for myself; I don't intend to wander my life away like a blind old badger."

The stairs to the boys' dormitory cracked suddenly, splitting the silence of the darkened Common Room, and both Katherine and David came upright, wands pointed towards the steps. But their harsh breathing was the only sound.

"Nothing," David finally muttered. "Unless Malfoy's got himself an invisibility cloak."

"I wouldn't put it past his father to buy him one. Make it that much easier to slip out when V-- Voldemort tugs on his leash." David's eyes went wide at the unexpected venom in her tone, but Katherine fiercely gestured him to silence. Not a gasp, not a growl came from the room in response to the taunt; they were alone.

She hoped.

David finally settled back against the leg of the table they were using as a fort. The younger four slept beneath and behind the limited shelter, small heaps of black robes almost lost in the darkness; David and Katherine sat between them and the rest of the room.

They returned to silence, each watching one half of the room, trying not to see anything moving in the shadows that wasn't actually. Finally, David couldn't stand it any longer, and broke the quiet again. "The headmaster's been gone a long time."

"Two weeks. More than." She'd been counting. Most of the school had.

"We could go to Professor McGonagall."

She let her eyes sink closed, too tired to go through this again. "And tell her what? There were poisonous spiders in Rina's trunk, more in Erin's and Andrew's, and we think it was attempted murder? But Professor Noira thinks it was just a stupid prank? McGonagall's not going interfere with another Head of House." She laughed once, quietly, harsh and humorless. "As if she even cares about Slytherins."

"Maybe Dumbledore will be back soon," he tried next, his voice that of a boy wanting to believe what he doesn't.

She couldn't help him there; she didn't believe it either. "Maybe."

"He has to be. We need to sleep, Kit."

"I know."

"Kit--"

"I know!" The words came out too sharply, so sharp they nearly cracked; she struggled for control and found it, finishing much more quietly, "And don't call me Kit."

David was blessedly silent for a long moment; then, "This would be so much easier if it was just the two of us, wouldn't it?" The last flicker of embers from the fire cast his face into harsh, ever-changing edges, as they had with Snape, the planes almost unrecognizable. "It's guarding them that makes it so hard."

"Yes."

"But it would be wrong to leave them," he continued anyway, still determined to convince himself. As if they hadn't had this conversation every night for a week. "Malfoy and the others... we'd be as bad as they are."

"Yes."

"But we're not."

"No." Not quite. Not yet.

Not ever.

"They'd be surprised, wouldn't they? The other houses," he clarified, when Katherine raised her eyebrows. "They think we're all up here singing praises to you-Know-Who. Counting the days until we take the Dark Mark." He almost laughed, looking wryly down at the children who slept restlessly beside them, barely more than a child himself. "If they only knew...."

"They don't want to know," she bit out, before reluctantly remembering the concern on Lily Evans' face. "At least, most of them don't. But it doesn't matter what they think." Her smile was small and bitter. "It never matters what everyone else thinks. 'Take care for thine own self, and let others choose as they may. They will anyway.'"

"Did you *actually* memorize Salazar's autobiography?"

"Only the good parts." She stared past the shadows that wrapped around and through the room, the better to see them move. "Go to sleep. I'll wake you in a few hours."

Maybe David knew she'd had enough for one night; maybe he'd simply had enough himself. He wrapped himself in his school robes without argument, and stretched out in front of the younger students, between them and the darkness. Rina rolled next to him in her sleep, whimpering; he looked slightly embarrassed as he put his arm around her, but she quieted. Katherine ignored them both, and soon their breathing leveled into peaceful sleep.

The fire was almost dead, and she didn't dare move to put more wood on the fire. That would mean leaving the table, leaving the useless security blanket of the other five. Something flickered in the darkness and her heart skipped several beats. Had that been a flash of silver there, at the top of the boys' stairs?

Her breath echoed, short and harsh through the room, but nothing moved. Her wand was 12 inches, rowan and nagaskin -- the skin of a snake, destined for Slytherin. She ran her fingers up and down its cool length, and kept her eyes fixed on the stairs, and waited for morning to come.

If it ever did.

* * * * * * * * * *

 

 

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